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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

Eva Biaudet, 2011 TIP Hero, On Finland’s Work to Combat Trafficking

This week, I traveled from Washington, D.C.—where I was honored to be named a 2011 TIP Hero—to Vilnius, Lithuania, where I have had the opportunity to discuss modern day slavery with prominent women from all over the world. As I listened to the Ghanian Minister of Women’s Affairs speak passionately about the forces that make women vulnerable to trafficking in her country and the need to rescue victims and hold perpetrators accountable in destination countries like Finland, I was reminded of how important it to share our knowledge about trafficking and coordinate our response.

In 2010, Finland issued the first national report on human trafficking, and it has already had a significant impact on our work combatting modern day slavery. First, the report has given decision makers and authorities an evidence-based analysis of our response to the problem, including the success of police in identifying victims of trafficking and exploitation. Second, the report examines the extent to which victims have been able to access assistance available to them and how well their rights have been protected as they move through the system.

Eva Biaudet is the Ombudsman for Minorities of Finland. Photo Credit: Eva Biaudet

The report recommended that the threshold of accession be lowered and that the assistance process be separated from the crime investigation process. Drawing on lessons learned , the report noted that police sometimes focus on gathering evidence against perpetrators at the expense of protecting the victim (or considering what will happen to her once the investigation is complete) The report also highlighted the importance of gender throughout the process, demonstrating how prejudice and stigma can influence authorities and courts.

To combat such prejudice, we use a victim centered approach in our antitrafficking work; this is also the starting point for the The Finnish National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings. The task of the National Rapporteur is to analyze and evaluate the implementation of legislation and activities to combat trafficking in human beings, and to issue recommendations to Parliament on making the action against human trafficking more effective.

The Parliament’s discussion of the National Rapporteur’s recommendations have deepended our understanding of trafficking in Finland and enabled us to repond more effectively to this crime. The National Rapporteur’s work is essential for the legislators and budgetmakers, as it enables them to make decisions on resources and to allocate them effectively.

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Picture of the Week

USAID is providing food, including sorghum shown here at Majak Aher near Turalei, Warrap State, and other emergency assistance to Sudanese displaced by fighting in the Abyei Area. Photo Credit: USAID/Donna Kerner

Our Sympathy to the World Food Programme

On behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development, I would like to extend our heartfelt sympathy for the loss of Santino Pigga Alex Wani of the World Food Programme (WFP). Our deepest condolences go to his colleagues at the World Food Programme as well as to Santino Pigga’s friends and family. We are deeply saddened by his loss of life and the tragic circumstances that led to his passing in Southern Sudan.

In Southern Sudan and throughout the world, WFP’s dedicated staff face dangerous and challenging conditions as they provide emergency food aid to people in desperate need. We applaud the staff at WFP for their bravery, dedication, and commitment to the world’s hungry.

PSAid Competition

When an international disaster strikes, we soon begin to hear stories of the devastation and the suffering of those affected.  They have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes.  The pictures we see are gut-wrenching, and we can’t help but think about how we can help.  We have so much, and they have so little.  The least we can do is help, right?

Clothing donations abandoned in Banda Aceh in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Photo credit: USAID

The next thing you know, schools are collecting shoes for children, houses of worship are collecting clothes for families, and neighborhoods are collecting teddy bears for those who have nothing.   The local radio station is announcing locations to drop off donations of items that might be needed, and everyone pitches in to make a difference by bringing supplies from the pantry, the closet, the garage, and wherever else to help the cause.

What most people never see is what happens to that goodwill on the other end in the disaster-affected area.  I work for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and it is our job on behalf of all Americans to manage the U.S. Government’s response to an international crisis.  I am usually deployed to major international disasters, and I do get to see what happens to the spontaneous donations.

First, you should know that most spontaneous in-kind donations never even make it to the disaster zone.  This is usually because of the sky high cost of moving the goods from the states coupled with the lack of a group to accept and distribute the donations to those in need.  And if the supplies do make it to the disaster-affected country, the supplies are often an inappropriate match for what is needed. I cannot forget the winter coats and prom dresses we saw piled on the airport tarmac after the 2004 Pacific tsunami.  I can’t help but think how generous the donors were, but their passion was uninformed.  As we saw in Indonesia and every international disaster before and since, these spontaneous donations often clog the pipelines that are providing life-saving medical supplies, food, shelter and hygiene materials, and other assistance to the very people everyone is trying to help.

Everything we have learned over the years has taught us that if you really want to help those in need, you should make a cash donation to a reputable humanitarian organization working in the disaster-affected area. Nothing will get there faster or help more.  And the cash donations will allow experts to buy — often in the struggling local markets — exactly what is needed.

To better inform those who want to help, USAID works with the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI).  CIDI holds an annual competition for college students to create public service announcements (PSA) that help spread the message that cash donations are best.

To enter the competition, students submitted  print and radio PSAs that explained the importance of appropriate international disaster response and build support for international disaster relief work done by well-established, U.S.-based organizations.  Now in its 6th year, PSAid is highly regarded among the nation’s leading university communications programs. Approximately 60 entries were received from students this year.  The 2011 winners were announced on April 21 at www.psaid.org.

Please take a moment to visit the PSAid site and help spread the message that cash is the best way to help.  On behalf of all of us who see so many donations with the best of intentions languish in ports, on runways, and in warehouses in countries affected by disaster, thank you for helping us better inform your family, friends and communities.

Celebrating National Women’s History Month: Mother and Daughter Team Up for Development

USAID 50th anniversary banner

The phrase “like mother, like daughter” can refer to common physical traits or hobbies, but in the case of Paula and Caroline Bertolin, it is their shared passion for development work that best applies.

March is National Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the countless women who are making a difference in the world.  For Paula, it is through her work at USAID.  She believes in the Agency’s mission of humanitarian assistance. “USAID does what needs to be done for countries that need it,” she explains.   Paula is an officer in the Office of Food for Peace, working on issues of food security for Ethiopia for the U.S. Government’s longest-running and largest food assistance program.  These initiatives respond to short-term relief and long-term development.  Before working at USAID, she served over five years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, and has worked for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso and in Kenya.

Caroline, 30 years old, followed her mother down the development career track.  She recently became a member of the Foreign Service where she is a Contracts and Agreements Officer, overseeing the execution of contracts and assistance awards.  She works on the business side of USAID, in partnership with recipient governments and organizations to make USAID assistance as effective and efficient as possible.

“My parents were very proud and excited,” she says of their reaction when she decided to work for USAID. In the career choice, she has also emulated her father, a 30-year Foreign Service veteran. For Caroline, it’s not just a career, but a lifestyle.  She believes kids who spend a part of their childhood surrounded by different cultures, languages and people develop excellent skills of observation and adaption.  She acknowledges that when growing up, her best answer to the “where’s home” question was:  “wherever my family happens to be at the moment!”

Although Paula has spent most of her career working in the Africa region, Caroline is ready for assignments in any region of the globe.  She explains: “Part of the beauty of being a Contracting Officer is that you are a true generalist.  You get to work with a variety of programs from any and all technical sectors at USAID and you are always wanted—and  needed – everywhere!”

Reflecting on National Women’s History Month, Paula believes that women in the work force still have “a long way to go, particularly if you choose to take time out for childrearing.” She cites that women, especially with interrupted careers, are victims of the pay gap, which was recently cited in a White House report.

The younger Bertolin gives her mother’s generation credit for breaking into USAID’s male-dominated Foreign Service Corps. However, she states, “the women of my generation need to produce more representation at the top levels of USAID — we need more women in high-level leadership roles.  This will affect how girls at home and abroad think about women and their role in development.”

Like mother, like daughter.

A Dispatch from the Tunisian and Libyan Border

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID on the ground. Photo Credit: USAID

Ras Jdir, Tunisia: I heard boisterous singing as I walked through the transit camp on the border between Tunes and Libya. There, forming a human chain to pass boxes of supplies into a tent, was a group of Tunisian youth, volunteering to assist the tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya. They provided a welcome counterpoint to the blowing sand and steady flow of Bangladesh, Somalia, Malian and other migrants struggling across the border and into the transit camp.

Only weeks after the Tunisians sparked a regional revolution on January 14th, toppling the corrupt regime of Ben Ali and inspiring the world with their aspirations for freedom and democracy, Tunisians have once again mobilized. The newly installed government of Tunisia quickly provided security and support for transit camps. Citizens across the country have spontaneously provided food, water and blankets, and driven to the border to volunteer. The energetic singers I encountered were part of a group of 40 Boy Scouts who came eager to help. There was a palpable sense of pride in their ability to organize and act in this new era of freedom.

Some 80,000 Tunisians worked inside Libya, alongside the more than a million guest workers from around the world — 200,000 have fled thus far. Already 30,000 Tunisians have returned, often to the poorer communities in the south, which means an influx of unemployed workers and loss of remittances. At the same time, the economy is reeling from loss of tourism in the wake of recent events and loss of important commerce with Libya. And yet, Tunisians, including those in these hardest hit communities, have generously reached out, determined to help.

I traveled with Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugee and Migration at the U.S. Department of State to understand better the needs arising from the conflict now engulfing Libya. While there, we announced $17 million of urgent assistance, bringing the total U.S. Government aid to $47 million. Our assistance to-date has gone to UN organizations on the frontlines of managing the camps and transport, to international NGOs able to provide critical help to those still inside Libya, as well as to the Tunisian Red Crescent Society, now an important conduit for volunteers.

Our new funding will target urgent assistance to the Libyans who are still trapped inside a bloody conflict as well as enabling support for those communities in southern Tunisian hardest hit by this crisis. We are inspired by them and as Americans, we are proud to mobilize alongside them in this time of crisis.

I also stopped to talk with two migrants from Bangladesh. They had worked in Libya for a year, but had not received wages for several months. Their employer abruptly shut down the construction project where they had worked. Fearful of the rising violence they headed to the border and along the way were robbed of their remaining money and cellphones. When we met, they had joined the 40 Boy Scouts, inspired as well.

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID.

USAID supports Ministry of Education in Haiti

When the Ministry of Education building collapsed in last year’s earthquake, people scrambled to pull colleagues from the rubble.

Employees quickly returned to work in donated shelters, with little time to mourn the loss of their friends, family and colleagues. Among those killed around Haiti were 38,000 students, 1,347 teachers and 180 education personnel. More than 4,200 schools were destroyed.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) faced a monumental challenge in getting the education system back online. Its gradual progress has been impeded by the loss of office equipment.

Last week, employees, who have shared the few working computers, happily welcomed new supplies provided by USAID project PHARE (Programme Haitien d’Appui à la Réforme de l’Education). The donation included 60 laptops, 20 desktop computers, 80 desks and chairs, and 20 printers.

“This will help us accelerate our work,” said Pierre-Michele Laguerre, MOE director general.

Laguerre described the scene when the three-story building crumbled Jan. 12, killing 11 employees.

“We heard a lot of crying and screaming,” he said. “We spent many days trying to save those under the rubble.”

Those trapped included Jacqueline Jasmin and Marie Lourdes Borno.

A mass of concrete collapsed on Jasmin, whose son leapt from an opening on the first floor as the building pancaked.

“I heard my son crying, ‘My mother is dead!’” she recalled. “I yelled out, ‘I am alive!’”

Jasmin’s son frantically ran for help as colleagues worked by hand to rescue her. Ten hours later, they pulled her out.

When the earthquake struck, Borno had just walked away from Jasmin. Borno lost consciousness and said that upon waking, “I found myself with my arms on me, but they were crushed. I tried to be brave, and prayed to God to have given me life even without arms.”

Her colleagues freed her within 10 minutes, but her arms had to be amputated at the elbow. Jasmin had a metal rod inserted in her broken right arm, which, along with her head, bears multiple scars.

The two share a strong bond, along with a nickname for each other.

“Whenever I see Madame Borno, I hug her and say, “My rubble companion!’” Jasmin said.

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Real Results in Afghanistan

By: Louisa Bargeron and Lars Anderson

During the USAID delegation to Afghanistan, Administrator Rajiv Shah, Mission Director Earl Gast, and Alex Their, head of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan,  visited the Hesa Awal Community Development Council (CDC)—an initiative made possible through Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Programme (NSP)—located in Dakoy Payan Village, Kabul.  Also present was Deputy Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak for Programmes, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development, visited a Community Development Council Health Clinic in Mirbacha Kot, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. Dr. Shah was accompanied by USAID Mission Director Earl Gast and Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Jarullah Mansoori. Photo Credit: Lars Anderson/USAID

Created in 2003, the solidarity program develops the ability of Afghan communities to identify, plan, manage and monitor their own development projects.  NSP empowers communities to manage resources transparently during all stages of the project-cycle and make decisions affecting their own lives and livelihoods.  In Hesa Awal, the CDC serves 482 families totaling 2,802 people.  Sometimes the men and women of this village come together, at the same time, to discuss what matters to them most and on this day the villagers agreed that their clinic was a top-priority.  The clinic serves an average of 70 patients a day, most of them children and soon-to-be mothers.  For parents, the biggest impact has been the enhanced quality of maternal health care, as well as the improved health of their children as a result of vaccinations.

Administrator Shah was enthusiastic with the development council’s capacity to come together on a weekly basis and connect with the people to address local issues.  Shah noted how much of a huge difference and positive impact this program has had on the community, most notably the CDC’s work in establishing a well-stocked  and run clinic and completion of a local road project, which combined, cost less than sixty thousand dollars.

Click here to see video from the Administrator's trip to Afghanistan.

Minister Barmak reinforced the NSP’s goal of fostering a sense of local ownership and leadership and was grateful for USAID‘s support.

Both Earl Gast and Alex Thier recognized the programs proven results in connecting the local government to the provincial level.

The CDC, supported by USAID, is the largest component of Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Program.

Haiti One Year Later: “As long as I am alive, I have hope”

By: Ben Edwards

If you read a newspaper, surfed the internet or watched TV on Wednesday, you know the heart-wrenching state of Haiti one year after the earthquake.  For many, the milestone was a benchmark to measure progress toward earthquake recovery – to report the amount of rubble moved and shelters constructed.  But, for those who lost loved ones in the earthquake, rubble figures and shelter facts seemed far from their minds.

In the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood of Port-au-Prince,more than a thousand Haitians squeezed into a street corner wearing white to commemorate those who died in the earthquake.  Small children grasping heavy blocks of rubble to use as seats wobbled toward the gathering.

From a small stage, a religious leader addressed his community, several of whom clutched tattered photos of loved ones.  He called for a moment of silence at 4:53 p.m., muting whispers and shuffling feet.  Seconds later, a wail erupted from a young girl, tearing through the silence.

“Mama…Mama,” she cried.

A lump grew in my throat.  Heads turned to pinpoint the source, which we never found.  It didn’t matter; her burden was shared by all in attendance.

The crowd began to sing, “How Great Thou Art,” and washed away the sound of weeping.  The music rolled up an adjacent hillside where a group of locals were planting trees – orange, mango, coconut and others — to signify the community’s rebirth.

“Today is a day to remember my friends, and it’s a day to think about a new future,” said a worker.

The 60 trees planted on Wednesday were a small sample of a much larger USAID project to recognize the lives lost in the earthquake by planting 300,000 trees in Parc la Visite National Parc.  Forests cover less than two-percent of Haiti, and the new tress will help restore part of a watershed that descends toward Port-au-Prince and Jacmel.

The 60 trees planted on the hillside in Carrefour Feuilles overlook a new school that was rebuilt in the past year.  The school is a sign of progress, but skewed buildings and pockets of rubble are lingering reminders that Carrefour Feuilles was hit particularly hard by the earthquake. To make matters worse, neighborhoods that suffer the greatest human loss and infrastructure damage tend to attract criminal activity.

After the earthquake, USAID helped keep Carrefour Feuilles from falling into this trap by employing residents to rebuild their neighborhood.  Temporary employment brought relative calm to the community, but stability remains tenuous.  The tree planting that took place on Wednesday was part of USAID’s temporary employment program.

While most of the workers on the hillside seemed happy to talk about trees, they offered less about hopes for their country’s future.  One man, however, was eager to talk reconstruction.

“(International) aid built shelters, helped with rubble and with cholera,” said Maxime.

He then offered a wish-list for progress, citing education reform and governance as key issues.  The timely gut-check highlighted the staggering challenges that lie ahead and the years it will take to overcome them.

As the sun dipped below the surrounding mountains and the sky turned orange, Maxime reconciled my ambivalence about what they’ve accomplished and what remains.

“As long as I am alive, I have hope.”

Haiti: The First Year of the USG’s Long-Term Commitment

By: Paul Weisenfeld, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Latin American and the Caribbean
Photo of Amelia

Seven-year-old Amelia bears a scar from where a concrete block struck her during the earthquake. She is a student at Ecole Marie Dominique Mazzarello in Port-au-Prince, which has temporary classrooms built as part of the PHARE program of USAID. Photo Credit:Kendra Helmer/USAID

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, it’s important to reflect on the lives lost and shattered by this devastating tragedy. But we should also remind ourselves of the commitment of the Haitian people and the international community to rebuilding the country. I was privileged for much of the past year to lead USAID’s Haiti Task Team, charged with coordinating reconstruction efforts in Washington. Seeing Haitians pick themselves up and dedicate themselves to rebuilding their lives after having suffered so dramatically was inspirational. Seeing my colleagues at USAID and other agencies work long hours away from their families and under extraordinarily difficult circumstances to begin the process of recovery and reconstruction was a source of pride. Anyone who has traveled to Haiti over the past year has heard countless stories of heroes that are etched in our minds.

2010 was a year of multiple challenges for Haiti, which suffered not only the earthquake, but also Hurricane Tomas and a dangerous cholera outbreak that continues to threaten the lives and health of Haitians across the country. This is indeed a pivotal moment for the country. Haiti will eventually have a new government, and reconstruction efforts, which have been in the planning phase for many months, will soon begin apace. We are at a point where we will start to see real gains being made. This opportunity for progress is due in large part to the hard work of the Haitian people, with the support of the international community. Together with our U.S. Government colleagues and the international community, we’ve worked with the Government of Haiti to save lives, respond to urgent needs, and lay the foundation for real improvements in the quality of life in Haiti.

Over the past year, we’ve helped provide safer housing for almost 200,000 displaced Haitians; supported vaccinations for more than 1 million people; cleared more than 1.3 million cubic meters of the approximately 10 million cubic meters of rubble generated; helped more than 10,000 farmers double the yields of staples like corn, beans, and sorghum; and provided short-term employment to more than 350,000 Haitians, injecting more than $19 million into the local economy. We’ve provided nearly $42 million to help combat cholera, helping to decrease the number of cases requiring hospitalization and reducing the case fatality rate. By introducing innovations like mobile banking and vertical farming, we’re having a long-term impact on improving the lives of those we serve. We’re partnering with the Government of Haiti in all of our efforts, ensuring that what we do will be sustainable for years to come.

The U.S. Government has developed a robust and ambitious long-term development strategy for our work in Haiti that aligns with the Government of Haiti’s national development plan. Our strategy focuses on rebuilding four key areas: health, infrastructure, economic growth, and governance. We’re placing a priority on innovation and alliances with the private sector and ensuring that we operate responsibly and accountably. And while we will continue to work on rebuilding Port-au-Prince, we’re also encouraging decentralization by tackling poverty and other development challenges in population centers across the country.

Haiti faces a long and difficult road ahead, but we can take encouragement from the resilience and courage of Haitians themselves. During my many visits to Haiti, I’ve heard repeatedly from the Haitian people that they recognize the magnitude of the challenge of rebuilding their country, but because they are no strangers to struggle, they are prepared for the tough task ahead. Together with the rest of the U.S. Government, we at USAID are committed to fulfilling President Obama’s pledge to support the Haitian people’s efforts to rebuild over the long term.

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